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‘Ornament & Crime’

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:34 AM
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by eric ( last modified Mar 05, 2008



The essay by the Austrian architect Adolf Loos ‘Ornament & Crime’ written in 1908, argues that all ornament is criminal in nature. Loos, “holds the Papuan up as an example of man who has not evolved to the moral and civilized circumstances of modern man, and who will therefore kill and consume his enemies without committing a crime. Had a modern — meaning a Western man — done the same thing, he would either be considered a criminal or a degenerate. By the same token, the Papuan may tattoo his skin, his boat, his oar or anything he may lay his hands on ... He is no criminal. But a modern man who tattos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate. Tattooed men who are not imprisoned are either latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If a tattooed man dies free, this is because he has died prematurely, before committing his murder.”( ‘Adolf Loos: The New Vision’: Joseph Rykwert) Ornamentation, he contends in modern society is without merit. It forces the laborer to perform work that performs no function, other than signatory (say, a crown moulding signifying the top of a wall). Loos professes that it’s a waste of material, effort and a needless expense. Ornament freezes a building in time, Art Nouveau, in Loos’ time…perhaps pluralism or minimalism in our time.

No trim, no ornament, no crime.

Stonco 150L, with 4A backplate

Does our house look dated already by virtue of the lack of ornamentation? There’s validity in the argument that economy has driven many of our decisions, including those to eliminate ornament…but I wouldn’t have chose ogee moulding even if I had an extra five grand sitting in my pocket. I question some of Loos’ arguments and the social conditions he supports them with, but at heart I have to say I agree with his thesis. Loos worked hard to allow each material to be expressive of its inherent qualities, the only object on my walls (until I can afford artwork…is that ornamentation?) are my $11 Stonco exterior grade lampholders…a modern torch of sorts. Oh yeah…there’s the Enje roller blinds (IKEA, 39”x98”, $29.99)…which I considered stitching colored thread horizontally to add some color to the room…ornament, tsk tsk.

It’s no wonder my kids are pining for the outdoors, their required reading lists now require German translation.




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